The Land of the Free?

The land of the free? Whoever told you that is your enemy.

Rage Against the Machine – “Know Your Enemy”

Did you know – because I didn’t – that the American flag should under no circumstances be allowed to touch the floor?

I suppose after Geri Halliwell squeezed herself into that Union Jack dress sometime in the nineties, most of the British flags I’ve seen have been decorating the living room windows of tubby, bald, red-faced men. And given that I’ve made a conscious decision to make my life choices in stark opposition to theirs – excepting our shared enjoyment of Stella Artois – the most honest way I could describe my feelings towards the flag would be aggressively indifferent.

So you can imagine my confusion when, on a summer camp in Germany many years ago, this American – who I found annoying to begin with – got really agitated with me when I moved a bunch of things off a table and onto the floor, one of which just happened to be a folded up American flag.

He barked at me to pick it up. I had no idea what he was getting so red in the face about, but just the way that he was ordering me to do something made me instantly not want to. I asked him what was wrong. There was no getting through to him. He just kept telling me to pick it up, getting more and more worked up by the second. I didn’t.

When the penny finally dropped that if that flag was ever going to go back on that table it would be because he and he alone put it there, he did it himself. And then he walked off in a huff, shaking his head and muttering about disrepectful people. He was remarkably unpleasant to me for days afterwards.

I considered apologising to him, I really did. But I snapped out of that delusion pretty sharpish. After all, he had been far more unpleasant to me than I had been to him. If I were the petty type, I would have demanded that he apologise to me. I had been acting out of an innocent ignorance. He was the one who treated me as less important than a piece of fabric.

But the main reason I didn’t apologise – and I stuck to it – was because I felt like I would have been enabling his bullshit. It spooked me just how strongly he felt about that flag, and I wanted no part in encouraging him further. Had he asked me politely to do it, I think I would have gladly obliged. But no, it was the strength of his emotions that made me feel like he had a lesson to learn: the rest of the world doesn’t give as much of a shit about your country as you do.

I don’t know what lies that flag represented to him. The home of the brave, the land of the free? Didn’t seem so brave. Didn’t seem so free.

Me? I slept like a baby that night. I didn’t have a flag to worry about.

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